Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Review: Surrender by Sonya Hartnett

Tags: YA, alienation, suspense, dysfunctional families, small town, Australian lit, abuse

In a muggy and tired Australian country town, a delicate boy by the name of Anwell lives with his oppressive parents. At age 20, Anwell is wasting away on his deathbed, the victim of an unidentifiable disease. In the meantime, his childhood friend, the wild child arsonist Finnigan, roams with his dog, Surrender, who used to be Anwell’s. Told in flashbacks, Anwell remembers his moments with Finnigan, his psychotic control-freak parents, his crush Evangeline, Surrender, and the time he and Finnigan came up with a nickname for himself: Gabriel, the angel. So Gabriel was the good boy and Finnigan the bad.

The town of Mulyan has been rampaged by a firebug on and off for the past few years. These fires tear the town apart and alienate Gabriel’s family even more from everyone. The firebug was never caught, and suspicions and accusations abound and break down any sense of trust this small town could have. The years pass and Gabriel’s parents become more controlling and restrictive. It is only some time before Gabriel finally snaps, and when he does, what secrets do we the readers learn as a result?

Sonya Hartnett has written a beautiful yet tortuous novel. Poetic elegance flows within every sentence. Every single word has been painstakingly chosen for its significance. And from this prose foundation grows a touching and haunting story about the power of parental abuse on a vulnerable child’s mind. At some points I felt as if I could not connect completely with the characters and their frightening predicaments, since they were SO outrageously disturbing (and not outrageously funny--outrageously sad). The story also got boring at parts; after all, one of the main characters is bed-ridden throughout. Sometimes I found myself impatiently putting it down for several hours, but I always felt myself being drawn back to it, eager for more of Hartnett's words. Overall, this is a fascinating read for those who want something darker and lyrically written to consider on dark nights.

Similar Authors
Francesca Lia Block
M. T. Anderson (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing)
Geraldine McCaughrean (The White Darkness)
K. L. Going (Saint Iggy)

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 3/5
Plot: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - I like it. The vibrancy of the fire in the black background, the dog silhouette in the center. Very appropriate to what actually happens in the story, besides just being a strikingly arresting image. Frightening, in a way, like you can't take your eyes off it, even though it's mysterious and disturbing. Much like the book itself.


  1. I love the cover and the title. The book seems cool too. I would love to read it in a cold night with no one around ;D


  2. I love Sonya Hartnett. Happy Birthday!!

  3. Thanks for the sidebar link to my contest. You are entered! :)


  4. This looks good! I also love Francesca Lia Block, so I'll have to check this out as well.


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